PODCAST EP 55
Simon chats with Ric Navarro, Global Director of Marketing and Communications at Norman Disney and Young.Listen Now
Dr Dan Swan is the co-founder and CEO of Realar (www.realar.com), a revolutionary app designed to help buyers visualise and experience off-the-plan properties. Dan talks about the impact he believes augmented reality will have on marketing.
Simon Dell: I’m joined today by Dr. Dan Swan. I was going to say, Dan, that you’re the first doctor we’ve had on the show. But sadly, we have Edwina Luck from QUT on every week. She’s a doctor as well, although I think her doctor certificate or whatever it is you get when you’re a doctor was written on the back of a cigarette packet or something like that.
Dr. Dan Swan: That’s how they all are from QUT.
Simon Dell: Dan Swan has a massive long list of accomplishments, which we’ll go through one-by-one within this chat. But suffice to say, he’s worked on tech startups, he’s worked in listed companies, he’s been involved in tech acquisitions. He’s been around the world and worked in the UK, the US, Australia, obviously, has a master’s degree and a doctor’s degree.
Still working in startups and now is the CEO of a fantastic piece of technology that brings augmented reality to real estate agents. Welcome to the show, Dan.
Dr. Dan Swan: Thanks very much, Simon. Great to be here.
Simon Dell: It’s not just real estate agencies. That’s selling it a little short. Give us a quick two minutes about what it is that you’re working on.
Dr. Dan Swan: Thanks for having me Simon. It is a beautiful morning. RealAR is an augmented reality that’s a platform that’s built for real estate. We’re not really just about real estate agents. We’re about the whole real estate vertical. That’s the wide property market.
RealAR is a start-up. We’ve been forging that since midway through last year. The key thing is, it came about with my co-founder and I, Keith. We were really tracking the launch of Apple’s AR kit, which was in sync with the launch of the iPhone X.
The X came out in November last year, and what they did, they basically brought about AR in a new way, augmented reality, or new way now supported on about half a billion smartphones and iPads. That was really exciting to us. We started to look at that.
We certainly didn’t want to do anything that was too gimmicky, so we really found some ways that were really exciting to us that could work in real estate. RealAR is all about trying to visualize a property, a building, a house on an empty block of land. That’s where we’re at at the moment. We’ve got a few ambitions to take that a little bit deeper into the wider real estate space, but that’s essentially what RealAR does from broad strokes.
Simon Dell: Anybody who wants to have a quick look at it, because it’s got a great demo video if you go to realar.com. There’s a fantastic video there, and within a couple of minutes, the light bulb comes on and you go, “That shit is pretty cool.”
Dr. Dan Swan: That’s right. There is a demo there. RealAR: The easy way to remember it is AR for real estate. We’re also live in the App Store. That’s a free app. If you go to the Apple app store, you can download it. There’s lots of demo houses, play with it, and suddenly get your head around what augmented reality is on a smartphone.
There’s a lot of really exciting stuff in there as well.
Simon Dell: We’ll come back to talk about the whole AR space a little bit later. The first question I normally ask everybody, just to get an understanding of your background: What was your first job? The first job that you were actually paid money to do?
Dr. Dan Swan: Probably my paper round.
Simon Dell: I did one of those as well. God, it was torturous, wasn’t it? Was it one of those that you do every day, every morning, or once a week?
Dr. Dan Swan: It’s every day. It was torturous, horrible, cold Northern Hemisphere winters. That was my very super first job. My first career job was actually, I signed up and joined the army when I was 16.
Simon Dell: How long were you in the army for?
Dr. Dan Swan: I was only in there for a short stint. I joined the parachute regiment. I wanted to jump out of planes, which I found very exciting. Of course, they’re pretty much special forces.
Simon Dell: At 16, you wanted to jump out of a plane?
Dr. Dan Swan: Yes, for a job.
Simon Dell: Why? What on Earth brought that into your head?
Dr. Dan Swan: It was the quickest way at 16. I just really wanted to get out. Back then, I wasn’t overly-academic. I went to a state school. I wasn’t unhappy at home, but I lived and grew up in the countryside. It’s the fastest way I could actually get a regular pay, a regular salary, do something that was really quite exciting and a little bit meaningful, and go see and travel the world.
I quickly realised the realities of it, which were shooting people is a thing and travelling around the world is a bit of a myth when it comes to the British army, anyway. But it was all good fun and it gave me a lot of confidence.
It was very exciting. But more importantly, what it did, it was almost a pathway to this job, believe it or not because as soon as I left, I joined a company called Racal, who made things like radars, and missiles, and lots of other exciting technology. They had a skunkworks project in there at the time.
Simon Dell: Explain what’s skunkworks to people who may not understand.
Dr. Dan Swan: A little side project that they were playing around and tinkering with. You can imagine these military-esque buffins, q-type people. This side little project was called Vodafone, which was my segue into how I got involved with technology, really. As well as loving the outdoors, in those cold winter months, I was always a bit of a computer nerd as well simultaneously.
For me, it was actually quite natural to start tinkering around with stuff. That was my start in life, I suppose.
Simon Dell: I noticed that Racal were actually based in Chessington, those people listening from the UK will know from its famous World of Adventures. Was that theme park there at the time? I’m just trying to think when it was actually…
Dr. Dan Swan: Chessingtons has always been there. It evolved from being just a zoo.
Simon Dell: It did, absolutely.
Dr. Dan Swan: It was good times, it was fun, but that’s pretty much how I kicked off and got my career going. It was a bit of a left of field way of getting into startups in a weird way.
Simon Dell: I noticed after that, you got yourself into web development. What I’m interested in understanding is, that was web development back in what? It says ’96 to ’98, so that’s 20 to 22 years ago. What’s web development like 20 years ago?
Dr. Dan Swan: Back then, it was really cool.
Simon Dell: Are you saying now, if you’re in web development, you’re not cool anymore?
Dr. Dan Swan: It is kind of cool but there’s areas of web dev which are cool and interesting because there are platforms like Squarespace and Wix. You can just whack it out fairly quickly, so the old-school web designer is radically different to what we were back then. I took off and did a bit of travelling, I came back and decided I did have a brain and I wanted to use it, so I went to university and studied from ’93 to ’96.
The upshot of that was universities back then were probably, in terms of the internet, the only institutions that were really doing anything. I actually remember sending my first email to a professor in Australia, using green screen, command prompt kind of stuff which was kind of all very interesting, and then just sitting there looking at it, waiting what happens next. That was my first email. But universities were quite exciting because I’d already had that background experience with a little bit of tech. Back then, that was the transition, really.
My Racal experience was transitioning from mainframe computing with big disks and tapes, which actually became a little bit boring for me. Suddenly, the rise of the personal computer connected to the internet was all pretty exciting. Even at university, I was studying what the impact of what was then called the “information superhighway” would take halt.
It’s actually pretty exciting. I was leaving university in ’96, I’d already started teaching myself things like HTML and VRML, which is a 3D version which never took off. I pretty much left university straight away walking into having started my own business. We were doing a lot of work. I was still based in Cambridge at that time but we were doing a lot of work with property and financial markets in the UK, in and around the city of London.
It was really cool. That was our first area of what we’d call being a web dev shop. There was a lot of education. Part of my role was being paid by the government, going out and handing grants, telling people what the interweb was. It was a little bit more than just a yellow pages online. They were really exciting times in retrospect.
Simon Dell: You can code. Do you still code now? Is that something that you do or you leave that to somebody else?
Dr. Dan Swan: I definitely don’t code anymore for a multitude of reasons. I understand code, so it’s a good skill to have because it means you can understand the limits of technology. And so, when you white board the blue box and point that to the red box, developers don’t look at you going, “That involves folding time.” It’s an important skill to have and I definitely really encourage anyone out there to go out and learn some coding if you don’t already.
Simon Dell: So kids coming out of university or school today, that’s something that you think… Even if that’s not a long-term career for them, at least understand how code works?
Simon Dell: You moved there to startups, web track. Tell us a little bit about that. I think the interesting thing for me for that was it was ’98 to 2002. There was a bubble bursting at some point in there as well, wasn’t there?
Dr. Dan Swan: There was. It’s a bit of a segue to where we are now. It’s the reason what we’re doing with RealAR as well. We actually originally created our own little web dev shop. We ran that for 18 months.
Simon Dell: When you say, who are you talking about?
Dr. Dan Swan: A business partner of mine in the UK, a good friend of mine from back home. We started doing this stuff. Through him, he was much more of a hardcore gaming coder. I’d be the guy running around, talking to people, customers. Anyway, it came to a head and we were trying to figure out… We were literally just making up because web developers weren’t really a thing yet. The hype hadn’t really started in terms of dot com boom, certainly in the UK.
And so, I was presented an opportunity by a great guy called Jeremy Thomas who is more what you would call these days an acra-hire. We pretty much sold what we were doing and joined WebTrak. WebTrak was very much a start-up. I was the first employee. The other co-founder was a guy called Richard Evans who used to do things like write algorithms for nuke submarines to outrun each other through the gaps in radar.
Simon Dell: Just light code here and there, yeah.
Dr. Dan Swan: Yeah. I think he was professor of Information Technology at Cambridge University as I recall, probably one of the top four Java programmers in the world back then. That’s where that skill of learning how to code is actually being able to hold some form of conversation with guys who are just incredibly smart and incredibly deep into their field is important.
Anyway, I think probably the smartest thing I did is we were very aligned with technologies, Java, with something we were working with and had experience with. That’s what their technology stack was, but they were very much focused on retail as a vertical. They were basically helping with supply chains. All of the tier one retailers around the world, here in Australia, you might attend your Bunnings, your Coles, your Myers. They have massive ERP systems.
When you go and buy something from the point of sale, it can track and knows where to put big volumes of clothing. If there’s a hot sale on red T-shirts, they know how to scale it with red T-shirts, all this stuff that now Amazon is doing on steroids. The smartest thing we did was actually sell to those guys and not only online with technology, but they’d already had experience. They weren’t overly young people, but they’ve been at the backend of the technology burst in the 80s, not internet but more basic technology.
They had a very clear vision about what they wanted to achieve, which was awesome. WebTrak ran for about 2 years, and then we got acquired by one of our partners like Retech which is actually an Australian company. It was originally founded in Melbourne. It was an extraordinary journey because we then became the catalysts for them to become a dot com and become retail.com, and then IPO on the NASDAQ.
Between ’96 and ’99, I essentially went from a two-person windowless office in Cambridge to my first trip to New York City was looking on hoteling in Time Square. There’s retail.com splattered all over billboards, cabs, all over napkins and coffee shops, and just going, “Holy moly. How did this happen?” It was really exciting.
Retech was, although it was founded in Australia, it was actually based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which has been a retail hub. Mall of America, still the largest mall in the US, is just outside of that. I spend a lot of time in Minneapolis and also responsible for a lot of the European stuff as well. That was super exciting.
The dot com boom, we were on paper for a while. We were paper millionaires for a couple of years, which was really exciting. But the good thing was that we actually had a very robust model. We weren’t like a… You probably know the name, like a boo.com, which is just a very flash in a pen. I remember having a few conversations and meetings with those guys. We were like, “What are you even doing?” We’re already very well-established in the market from a technology base. It wasn’t all about being dot coms, although it’s helped power us. When the bubble did burst around 2000, we still had a very robust business model. That was quite cool.
Although we weren’t millionaires on paper that we had hoped, we still did really well and that business then eventually got acquired in the early-2000s by Oracle which then was still the second-largest tech company after Microsoft before Google and Apple really took off. That was a really exciting journey: going from a series of number of acquisitions from literally just having some ideas, doing them, and riding this wave of acquisitions. It was a really exciting time. It will be with me for the rest of my life, I suppose.
Simon Dell: You took your next step. It seems to me went into more the advertising and publishing space. Is that accurate?
Dr. Dan Swan: The story is that I well into marketing and advertising by mistake.
Simon Dell: As many of us do, mate. How did it happen with you?
Dr. Dan Swan: It all sounds very sexy, but that whole dot com time was a whole lot of really hard work. For me personally, being on a plane, and relationships, and friends, and feeling like you’re rooted to one place was actually quite hard. I cashed out on a high. I did well and I just wanted to have a break. The best way I could have a break, I thought, was move to Australia, live on Manly Beach, learn how to surf, dive, fly airplanes, sail boats.
And then I thought, “That’s kind of cool but also a bit dangerous.” So I thought the easiest way to stay ahead of things in technology was to do a master’s degree, so I did a master’s degree at UTS in Sydney, living on Manly, and that was a really cool way to rethink about what I wanted to achieve and do. The retail space wasn’t actually something we chased after. We wanted to be a bit more of a creative web dev shop but that’s just what took us on that amazing journey.
I did my master’s degree in interactive media and I thought, “That was a good way of qualifying that I’d actually started off in university doing a politics degree and making all of my experience vaguely relevant.”
Simon Dell: I had a law and politics degree. I look back on it and just go, “What’s that?” It wasn’t three years wasted, but it was three years wasted I feel. I digress.
Dr. Dan Swan: I’ve got some views on universities and skills, but anyway, it’s still university. It was a very enlightening era, and the fact that people were talking about things about the internet academically was also quite exciting for me. That was probably the left afield way of doing things, the way I got inspired.
I landed in Australia, and Australia was absolutely a barren wasteland when it came to what was going on in digital. You talk about dot com boom and bust. Certainly, we felt it in the UK and the US, but I think a lot of the big companies who were setting up shop here like Microsoft, using Australia as a very direct market and ploughing lots of money in infrastructure and jobs and buildings, they pretty much left overnight. That was interesting.
When I actually did started thinking about what I wanted to do, it was very hard to actually start contemplating doing something by myself, being in a very new market, but also being in a very competitive market for lack of a better word.
Simon Dell: Did you travel here on your own or did you have family with you?
Dr. Dan Swan: I’ve got family in Sydney. My dad actually lives in Sydney so that was one of the reasons. I wanted to reconnect and spend time with him and the family based here and also in New Zealand as well. That was cool, and I had a few friends already here as well from back home. It was actually very easy to slide into Sydney life. Australian life, Sydney life is just so awesome that it’s very easy to live here.
At the same time, I fell in love with Australia. I also met my wife, got married after a few years. What I started to do after I was leaving university, I started exploring and doing some work with Sony Films and Animal Logic. I worked on a few of their big productions with the guys who did The Matrix. Matrix 2 and 3 had just happened here. Star Wars, the prequels just happened here. There was a lot happening in the creative film and media space, and I was already doing some work when I was doing my masters at UTS. In particular, I was doing some work for Sony.
So, I applied for a job in advertising with one of the main agency groups, Havas, who had the Sony account, and started work for them as a contractor. I had lots of fun. The first project, I actually won some big admiral awards which was pretty amazing. It was the first time I actually saw a web page being featured in the TV, so that was really cool. The agency that I was involved with was doing some really amazing things at the time. They were quite a hot agency.
It was a little bit like being in start-up world because you just do a lot of quick fire burst projects. By the time I left Retech, I was doing bigger jobs. You suddenly find these projects would take months and months to happen, which I really wasn’t used to. So, being back into an environment that was very quick, quick turnover, quick turnaround in media and advertising was actually quite exciting and quite rewarding.
I started playing the game of building my career in advertising. I ended up at places like M&C Saatchi, and then a few integrated agencies. But then I started thinking, “Well, a lot of these projects don’t have that much substance, an advertising campaign, and an advertising website only has a certain amount of shelf life.” So, I just really yearned for getting back into deep tech. I ended up working for… I had a few guys that I knew around the tracks. Jobs were coming up for a company called Hyro who were then the biggest, and in their hayday, I think probably the oldest digital services company.
They’d actually acquired a whole bunch of businesses. They were doing things like Big Brother, Australian Idol, very media advertising but really big builds. There’d be a million-dollar build for doing a website. They were also doing a lot of stuff in mobile, which is really cool. We built Telstra’s network. We were doing some of those big builds for Telstra and Foxtel.
Simon Dell: That would’ve been super early days of smartphones as well, wouldn’t it?
Dr. Dan Swan: It was pre-smartphones. The smartphone coming out in 2008, and this was 2006, 2007. But what we were doing with those Nokias we were building the first apps inside the N95, the last good Nokia. You could actually do remote recording through your Foxtel iQ, which is actually the same technology they use today with a smartphone, and News Corp as well. That’s actually how I met my co-founder Keith.
He was actually my client at News Corp because we were building out their first mobile network, which was pretty cool. And still to this day, there’s a lot of tech he and I worked on that’s still there ten years later. That shows how good it is.
Simon Dell: There’s a lot more I could ask you about advertising and marketing, but I want to make sure we talk about augmented reality. Obviously, that’s the space that you’re in at the moment and that current skill set. When did you first experience augmented reality?
Dr. Dan Swan: It was on a ski field in Japan. When I actually had my first proper experience out in the world, I’ve been tracking augmented reality for probably around 10 years. On smartphones, they started becoming quite exciting, some of the visual cues. Some of the early apps actually were based on augmented reality as well. One of the very first big, famous ones on an iPad was the Stargazer. You can hold it up to the sky and see some of the patterns in stars. That’s augmented reality too. That’s like the first killer app with augmented reality.
I was skating in Japan. I had downloaded and started playing with some of the cool apps. Japan’s always been a bit of a leader in augmented reality, which is interesting. Suddenly, I found myself a bit last. I didn’t know where I am, but I’m hungry.
Simon Dell: You sound like an advert there, Dan.
Dr. Dan Swan: That’s the marketer in me. I was with my wife. I’m not sure where we are. I flipped open my, “You know what? I wonder if this app works.” Lo and behold, I flicked it open, I pressed the thing saying “bars or restaurants”. We’re halfway up the mountain, and suddenly, the big arrow comes on screen with crab ramen this way. We were like, “Oh shit, that’s good.”
We found probably the best, cheapest, most amazing crab ramen that I’ve ever written and it was in the middle of a ski field in Japan. That was my first AR experience, if you like.
Simon Dell: How long ago would have that been?
Dr. Dan Swan: That was probably about 10 years ago. It was probably 2009 to 2010, something like that.
Simon Dell: Have you always then had that itch in the back of your head that AR was something you wanted to do in those 10 years?
Dr. Dan Swan: It probably comes back a number of steps further. I don’t know about you. When I first flipped on the internet on my Netscape 1.0 browser, I was actually pretty disappointed. It was all grey. There weren’t even that many images. And I had this vision in my head, like Johnny Mnemonic or something, where it was this wooshy-wishy 3D experience. That’s one of the reasons why I started learning VRML, because I thought VR would be quite interesting and exciting. It really comes back prior to them.
I always thought there was more opportunity around 3D visualisation. So as things like AR came about and it started to happen on smartphones 10 years ago, it was always really interesting. The short answer to that is: I’ve been tracking it, and that’s when, because we also did a lot of work in film and a bit of gaming, so 3D is obviously big there, it just meant that when people like Apple made those announcements, saying, “Well, stuff that usually took big chunks of hardware and reusing things like Xbox Kinect sensors… We’ve crammed it all into a smartphone based on algorithms.” That’s where I went, “Actually, this is a big deal.”
Simon Dell: That was a tipping point there when the hardware caught up with the software and the ideas that people were thinking.
Dr. Dan Swan: Yeah, exactly. A real breakthrough, amazing. And suddenly, they launched it and suddenly this level of AR with sensors and tracking was on half a billion devices around the world. That’s pretty amazing.
Simon Dell: AR versus VR. There’s people that are out there that are hopefully listening to this that are in marketing and they’re thinking, “Should we be doing things in AR? Should we be doing things in VR?” That’s part one of the question. Part two of the question is: What sort of industries do you think that whole AR/VR infrastructure suits?
Dr. Dan Swan: That’s a very good question. I’ve just got back from literally a week and a half ago away from San Francisco and LA. There’s a lot of talk about exactly those questions there right now. To answer the first question, the difference between AR and VR essentially now, AR means it’s just on a smartphone and in your pocket, whereas VR requires things like headsets, and goggles, and additional equipment. AR essentially just uses the camera in your smartphone or device to mix up, put layers of computer-generated graphics into essentially a live video feed.
Imagine that stargazer app. You’re looking at the sky, and then it puts a layer through the camera of different constellations and patterns of different constellations. That’s a very simple explanation. Whereas VR requires gear, and headsets, and stuff basically. It’s also non-immersive. It means that you’re moving around physically a 3D world.
Being in LA, one of the big applications for this is in entertainment and movies. And what they found, they started having things like VR suites inside cinemas and that kind of stuff. But now, they’re actually moving to AR because it’s great whilst you’re… If you want a pre-cinema or post-cinema experience, launch the latest blockbuster and they want to have immersion in the cinema and go great, or you watch the movie, you come out, and you want to have a deeper relationship with Thor as a character, for instance. That’s okay.
But for them, they figured out there’s more longevity if it’s actually on your personal device, say your iPhone or your iPad. You can actually take that home and have a deeper, longer experience from that entertainment, if that makes sense.
Simon Dell: It’s a funny one because I don’t see that. I love both sides of it, the AR and the VR side of things, but I feel they are very different propositions for very different experiences.
Dr. Dan Swan: Oh, completely.
Simon Dell: I know you’re based in Byron Bay, but there’s one of those VR suite. It was actually [INAUDIBLE] warehouse school Zero Latency in Brisbane.
Dr. Dan Swan: I’ve met those guys. They were awesome.
Simon Dell: I went there two months ago, and 45 minutes of just, “Fucking hell. This was awesome.” What makes it even more awesome for me was I go, “This is first gen technology.” So, where is this going to be in two or three years’ or five years’ time? And I can see that, that you go with a group of friends. We were killing zombies, all those kind of things. You’d work the narrative together for 45 minutes, 60 minutes, that kind of thing. You’d walk out and just go, “Wow, I was in another world.”
But I also get that the whole AR thing is more personal. You can take it home and those kind of things. It seems strange, that shifting from AR to VR.
Dr. Dan Swan: This is one example of the way that they’ve realised one of the key advantages from experience from one technology to the other. There’s actually quite a lot of confusion out there in the marketplace. VR and AR are radically different things. One’s fully immersive. It’s just that they’ve got very similar acronyms and they both talk about reality. After a while, we’ll see that consumers will start having a much clearer picture between what the difference between the two things are, actually.
In our messaging, we’re trying to move away from even talking about AR too much and just talking about what the benefits are and what it does, rather than what the technology is. For us, having that personal device, having that device always connected, it’s a little like, “What’s the best camera you’ve got?” That saying, and it’s in the one that’s in your pocket. Obviously, more and more, that means smartphones. We’re taking a similar approach with our platform in the way that we’re approaching that.
Simon Dell: Where do you think the AR technology… What other industries does that suit or work well with?
Dr. Dan Swan: Gaming is massive. Even before ARkit last year, we saw Pokemon GO which was a boom and bust overnight.
Simon Dell: I still see groups of them standing around in Brisbane. For anybody that knows Brisbane, there’s the road that I travel to go home, which is a road called Moggill Road, bizarrely splits into two, and goes around, and joints itself back up again. Just for a few hundred meters, 300, 400 meters. And there’s this embankment grassy area in the middle of that. I drove past the other day, probably seven or eight of them standing in a little group together all with their phones. It was obvious they were playing Pokemon GO, but they’re still out there.
Dr. Dan Swan: Right now?
Simon Dell: I don’t know. That would have been about three weeks that they stood there, but there was a very rare Pokemon if they are. But I played it for about 24 hours. All the servers weren’t quite up to it.
Dr. Dan Swan: Same here. I was like, “What’s this all about? Oh, that’s interesting.” And then got very quickly disinterested. That’s the thing. There will be a lot of gimmicks and gadgets. The way to get people is innovation happens. That’s fairly normal. Getting back just to comparing our sector with the difference between AR and VR. VR, what I learned in the US, was that for things like BIM, building information management, which is the next iteration of doing CAD and 3D Design, they’re doing a lot more about using VR because it’s fully immersive for designing buildings.
You can actually grapple because you’re designing a 3D object, a building, in a 2D space typically. It starts with floor plans, and aspects, and then it goes to 3D guys, and they render it out and make it into a 3D object. They’re a lot more serious about actually designing inside those immersive environments. In terms of practical non-gaming gimmicky applications, that’s the area where VR will become quite interesting. It’s going to be a lot more of a business-driven thing rather than a consumer-generated thing.
If you think about people walking around, Zero Latency is a great example. You’re in a big warehouse, running around, shooting things and zombies, wearing headsets. That’s an awesome experience. But that’s quite hard to have in the workplace without justifying practical application. We think, back to AR, that right here and now, having it on the smartphone and in your pocket is really exciting. Is it going to be the final interface? Is the smartphone touchscreen going to be the final interface for AR?
There’s a lot of debate around that by the industry. We’re thinking probably not.
Simon Dell: What do you think the final interface will be?
Dr. Dan Swan: We’ll see a lot more integrated hardware, TV screens, thinking about voice control. Apple just announced they’ve patented some form of glasses a little bit like Google Glass. Google Glass was a failure mostly because the content behind it wasn’t particularly interesting. You lost interest after about a week. Why would I do that instead of use my phone? As we see things like the AI assistance evolving and hardware evolving, some of these new innovations taking off, probably in about 10 years’ time, we’ll see the next iteration of what AR actually means. For now, we think the AR experience on a smartphone and on an iPad are key and pretty cool. That’s where a lot of the 3D mapping of the world will happen.
I know you’ve seen some of the cool stuff that Google announced this week or last week, but there’s some really cool AR tech that they’re integrating with Google Maps. 10 years ago, they said, “You know what? We’re going to map the outdoor world.” And you’re like, “Whatever.” And they’ve done that. That’s finished. Now, they’re going to start mapping buildings. You look at Manhattan or Brisbane on Google Maps. You can see a lot of the buildings, from an AR point of view, are actually there.
With that stuff happening, it’s suddenly going to become useful. It’ll be like me being on my ski slope thinking, “I’m hungry. Give me something to eat.” It’ll be that immersive and hopefully that seamless.
Simon Dell: I love your comments about Google Glass. One of the things that I’ve always said, and I’ve said multiple times in the past few years, is that essentially, people don’t like wearing things on their heads. Getting them to do that long-term is a hard ask. Even people who actually use glasses for reading, and sunglasses and things like that, having something on your head like that is not a long-term wish. To be consistently walking around for 8 hours a day with the set of Google Glasses on, it’s not something that people are willingly wanting to do.
The benefits have to vastly outweigh the negatives of having to put those on there. And even you go, “What are the benefits that something like that could possibly offer me that would outweigh the reason for having it on for 8 hours a day?” And I can’t see that at the moment. Again, maybe in an industrial or business environment, maybe I could see that. But yeah.
Dr. Dan Swan: I totally agree. I was totally cynical when Google Glass launched. I didn’t rush out and want to buy them. In fact, Google always said it was more of an R&D project anyway. It was actually very hard to buy them. You had to sit on a waiting list. So, I totally agree. Answering your question again into other industries, automotive, self-driving cars, head-up displays are a big area. We strongly believe real estate is going to be huge.
Our thesis is: Pixels are cheaper than bricks. We’re trying to visualize, and selling dirt is hard. So if you’re trying to buy or sell a house off the plan, there’s actually a word that I learned in the US called aphantasia, which basically is the inability for people to visualize. Anyone who struggles to visualize and they’re looking to buy a house off the plan, which relies on 2D plans, and people putting it up in the end saying, “Imagine this tree line. That’s not going to be there. Imagine this, that’s not going to be there. Imagine your living room here.” They just go cross-eyes and walk away from the deal.
What we’re trying to do is, just by having a smartphone, actually being able to walk around a house in full-size so you can actually stand in your living room, and look outside and see what the view is, then you can connect with it rather than just rely on bits of paper or web pages which are essentially just 2D renders of a picture.
Simon Dell: I saw a restaurant or bar fit-out company that were building the fit-outs out of cardboard and putting them in the space to allow the client to be able to visualise how the thing looks. That seemed to me to be a giant waste of cardboard when you’ve got AR out there. And I’m going, “Those people really should be talking to you. Being able to visualise the fit-out…” It was so that they could stand there and they could work out service capabilities, how many people you could get behind the bar, whether they would be constantly bumping into each other, those kind of things. That’s another use for the platform. Do you think there’s much more gaming to come in the AR space?
Dr. Dan Swan: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I’m not an active gamer anymore myself.
Simon Dell: Were you? What did you play?
Dr. Dan Swan: Probably Call of Duty and those sorts.
Simon Dell: I had the Mike Goldman on here the other day. He was watching Call of Duty on Twitch the other day. I used to play an insane amount of Call of Duty.
Dr. Dan Swan: It’s a bit embarrassing these days, being a 45 year old and still playing with your PlayStation.
Simon Dell: You know what? It’s embarrassing being a 45 year old and not being good at it. Dan, if you’re 45 years old and you’re shit at Call of Duty, that’s … Anyway.
Dr. Dan Swan: I have my son in the UK. He’s very good. He just kicks my ass when we do online gaming. But then I feel okay with that because then I go, “Well actually, I remember not wasting my life in front of playing an Xbox.”
Simon Dell: I sold mine years ago. My wife said recently, a couple of years ago, “You can buy another one if you want.” And I just went, “It’s just such a time sink.” The problem is, I don’t want to play Call of Duty and be shit at it. I want to play Call of Duty and be good at it, which means that’s even more of a time sink involved. There’s nothing worse than kids on the other side of the world who are 13-years-old shooting you and then having a go at you across the internet. If I’m going to do this, I have to do it properly. That’s why I thought I’m not going to buy another one.
Dr. Dan Swan: That’s right. Very obsessive compulsive. I should say, we all talk about Oculus Rifts, and the new Vivas and all those VR headsets. Actually, the Sony PlayStation VR headset is probably the biggest VR platform out there. It would be remiss not to mention that
Simon Dell: What’s next for you guys? Where does RealAR go after establishing itself in the marketplace, building construction, real estate?
Dr. Dan Swan: We’ve been bootstrapping, which means we’ve been building a minimum viable product for the last 6 months which we’re really happy with. We’ve got some great IP in there. We’ve got an app that’s live in their marketplace. In the next few weeks, we’ll have Google Android as well, so that gives an even bigger reach. For us, it’s going to be growing and focusing on our market here in Australia with a view of scaling it to the US straight away, because the US market is very similar in terms of structure to the Australian market. We think that’s quite exciting.
Australia is a really great place for us to learn and bootstrap. Even though sometimes, I’m mocked for being in Byron Bay…
Simon Dell: Who mocks you for being in Byron Bay, Dan?
Dr. Dan Swan: Lots of people who want to live in Byron Bay, usually. We’re actually an amazing area, so there’s a lot of land release corridors in Northern NSW and especially Southeast Queensland just below Brisbane. That’s actually very similar to what’s happening in a lot of similar areas around LA County and Chicago. It’s an important human problem: We’re running out of houses versus population growth, and especially affordability.
First-time home buyers are looking at a $400,000 mortgage, which is huge. And so, trying to solve that problem of visualising and not walking is quite important to us. That’s probably going to be our focus for the next 6 to 12 months, is really growing our business and growing our customer base in Australia, New Zealand, and of course the US.
We’re also thinking about, our business plan is to go a little bit deeper into the consumer space. We really want to take these technologies involved, and we’re also sitting on the hills a little bit. If you look at some of the Google stuff that were announced last week, some of them we can leverage. We want to ride on the coattails of that and let Google do a lot of the education around what this technology can do. It’s a lot easier sell for us to go, “You know that Google thing you use now every day that finds you crab ramen in the ski field? Well, we can do that but we can now apply that to a real estate space. For example, with more residential homes and that kind of thing.”
That’s our goal. Were a start-up, so we’re very focused on the here and now, which is growing our customers, making our customers happy, which is great. We’ve got an online proposition so people can just go to realar.com and pay as little as $25 bucks to upload a model. We can even do model conversions now, which is actually quite exciting. People can actually just send us 2D models and we can convert it into 3D without a lot of the pain, even if you use things like SketchUp as opposed to 3D Studio Max, Rivet, Maya, or any of the other big packages.
It’s exciting times for us.
Simon Dell: You’re also involved in some other start-up stuff. Is there anything else you’re working in those spaces, or you’re 100% into RealAR?
Dr. Dan Swan: This came through our incubator accelerator based in Byron Bay called StartInno that’s been operating for four years. I really wanted to take a lot of the start-up community that was happening in Sydney, which is where I was based. I was just actually in Brisbane for Myriad last week, and there’s a great start-up community there too. In fact, I’d probably say a little better integrated with the regions. There’s been fantastic people up there. I really wanted to activate our community, the Byron community, even though it’s a small sleepy surf town. It’s actually got the highest density of creative industries outside of Sydney and Melbourne. So, I really wanted to inject some of the start-up stuff and co-working infrastructure.
That community started to mature. There’s lots of co-working spaces now in Byron, which is great. It means I’m not the only one coming to Byron and co-work. As our community is involving in terms of startups, we’re seeing a lot more traction there. I think it’s important that any start-up community is focused on cofounders and driven by cofounders, which is the similar model to the US. I think it’s important for us, even as the start-up community, to go back and do startups.
To answer your question, yes: fully-focused on RealAR. We’re operating out of the hub in Byron, which is pretty much self-sustaining and well-established now. Of course, I do still help and talk to some of the other incubating accelerator businesses that have come through our hub, which is really cool.
Simon Dell: What would be your one thing coming out of Byron that you’ve seen recently, last year or so, that you think people should keep an eye on? A new business or start-up that’s coming out of Byron.
Dr. Dan Swan: There’s always a lot happening at various different levels. We’ve got Spell Designs, one of the hot fashion labels. We’ve got TripADeal. There’s a lot of travel and tourism, obviously. But I think there’s some really cool stuff happening out of the food industry. There’s a lot of agrotech and there’s a lot of food brands coming out there.
One I’ll mention is Yumbar.co. They do vegan ice cream. I think we eat too much meat. I’m not a fully-fledged vegan, I’ll put my hands up to that straightaway, but these bars are absolutely incredible. Not only are they ethically-good but they taste fantastic. They’re like nothing you’ve ever eaten before. I’m quite excited about that because we’ve been working with them and they’ve now just opened a new commercial factory and facility. They’re going to be scaling up a lot wider across not only Australia but hopefully overseas, so keep an eye out on that one.
Simon Dell: Last question: If anybody wants to reach out and say hello to you, what’s the best way of them getting in contact with you?
Dr. Dan Swan: Just go through realar.com. There’s a contact page, but most of that stuff comes through directly because we’re still small and growing. That’s the best way. Go to realar.com. I’m also on LinkedIn as well, so hit me up there and you can find me, and DM me.
Simon Dell: It’s been absolutely fantastic. Thank you very much for your time. It’s been really interesting hearing about what’s going on in a world that I think a lot of people are nervous about or perhaps a little bit weary of that they don’t quite understand it. Even though it’s been about for 10 years, it’s still such early days for it. It’s fantastic giving your ideas and your input as well, so thank you very much for coming on the show.
Dr. Dan Swan: A real pleasure, Simon. Thanks for the great questions; really fun time. Thanks.
Simon Dell: Thank you mate, cheers.
Dr. Dan Swan: Take care, bye.
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